Orpheus Island: hail to the reef


Orpheus Island: hail to the reef

Australia, how we've missed you. By way of celebrating its reopened borders, here's Vice's Zing Tsjeng recalling her time in paradise

Zing Tsjeng

BY Zing Tsjeng25 February 2022

How much can you say about paradise? As our trip to Orpheus Island proved, you can say rather a lot… The dreamy island getaway, tucked into the inner reef of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, is only accessible by chartered helicopter. Mr Smith and I flew into Townsville Airport – two and a half hours from Sydney – and were welcomed onto a private chopper on a landing strip near some army Chinooks.

A crescent slice of white sand signals our arrival, and we descend onto a beach helipad that overlooks Hazard Bay and the resort’s white timber jetty. We’re greeted by an all-smiles team of staff who walk us past an impressive infinity pool overlooking the beach, fringed by palm trees and the 14 guest villas.

In the main pavilion, we’re sat down with champagne and explained the array of all-inclusive activities available. There’s certainly a lot to do – although most of it leans on the distinctly sporty side. There’s snorkelling, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, early morning yoga and hikes out into the bush. Then again, barring a nearby scientific research institute, the resort is the only concession to modern human existence in a 1,368 square kilometre national park. It almost seems rude not to indulge in the surroundings.

I was worried that this secluded luxury resort could feel off-puttingly ostentatious, but Orpheus wears its prestige lightly. Our one-bed villa was decorated in laidback beach style – all whitewashed walls and white linens – though the details whispered of sophistication beyond your average beachside shack. A Nespresso machine, organic Li’Tya toiletries, T2 teabags and a fully-stocked fridge of soft drinks, local beers and an impressive array of Australian wines all awaited – plus a thoughtfully curated basket of fruit, cheese and crackers in case our helicopter ride left us hungry.

The resort itself is tiny by all-inclusive standards – don’t expect to find hulking swimming pools or a choice of eateries here. In fact, you can probably walk from one end of the resort to the other in 20 minutes flat – but the intimacy is part of its charm. The similarly tiny number of guests means that we often had the run of the place to ourselves, and only shared the pool with, at most, two people at a time.

Breakfast and lunch are all served on an outdoor deck overlooking the bay; dinner is by candlelight in another part of the pavilion, also with views out to the ocean. Diners longing for choice may be disappointed by the limited variety on offer – you can choose your breakfast off an à la carte menu, but the tapas-style lunch and degustation dinner are decided by the chef based on locally sourced seasonal produce and whatever the nearby fisherman bring in.

Expect a lot of seafood – all delicious – and to indulge your tastebuds’ sense of adventure. (Ever tried a Byron Bay bug? It’s a kind of lobster it turns out). You might even spot some whales from your dining spot – we narrowly missed seeing a baby humpback cruising through. If you’re lucky, a chef may even reward you with a nighttime feed of the day’s leftovers to the reef sharks in the bay – totally harmless creatures, but awesome to behold at mealtime.

There is a small spa here, manned by one therapist who offers a dizzying array of treatments. You might easily spend your days getting foot massages and lazing by the pool, sampling the complementary wine and beers (cocktails are also on offer for no more than you’d pay in an upmarket Sydney bar), but Orpheus Island rewards the adventurous. We commandeered one of the motorised dinghies for guests and boated over to a nearby beach for snorkeling, gawping at giant clams and corals as we swam.

Each day also brought a new activity for guests – we opted for a guided snorkel tour and were transported over to a further-out reef, where we spotted stingrays and some spectacular humpbacks breaching the water.

You can also pay a little bit extra to have what the resort calls ‘island escapes’, including private charters to nearby shores. We chose Pelorus Island – an even more remote parcel of land that Orpheus have developed into a truly private experience. As in, they will drop you off for the morning or afternoon with a picnic hamper, whatever you wish to drink and leave you there on the sand. There’s also PADI diving, fishing trips and helicopter tours – but not much beats having a private beach all to yourself.

For an all-inclusive resort manned by what seems like an infinite army of staff who all know your name, you never feel too smothered or over-scheduled – you can pretty much do your own thing, sometimes to your own peril. (Did I almost strand the dinghy on some rocks when the tide came out? I’ll never tell.)

The only things I wouldn’t want to repeat are the sunburn and insect bites. If I had to do it all again, I’d just remember to slather myself in Le Tan sunscreen and insect repellant from the poolside bar (because this paradise is practical, too).

This review was first published in 2019 so some hotel details may have changed.

Zing Tsjeng is editor-in-chief at Vice UK and a journalist, podcaster and author, specialising in women’s and LGBTQ rights, politics, culture and lifestyle. In 2018, Octopus published her four-book series Forgotten Women, which explores the untold stories of inspiring women who have been marginalised from history.